Aylesbury remain top of the Southern Counties North after a hard earned 23-9 victory on the long road to Stow-on-the-Wold.
There are now just two games remaining in this season’s league campaign, and nothing less than maximum points are required if Dave Larham’s side are to guarantee at least the second place promotion play-off spot.
With the Ay’s on 80 points, Bletchley trail behind on 78, but have two games in hand.
Ay’s kicked off into the wind with the afternoon sun shining down on one of the most picturesque pitches in the league. Sitting high up in the rolling Cotswold country side the exposed pitch was offering little protection to the gusting wind.
Not long into the first half and Ay’s lost their hard working second row Mark Jeffers to an ankle injury. He was replaced by the imposing figure of veteran player Jim Dodds.
Dodds was soon to make an impact on the game when, following a catch and drive from a line-out close to the Stow try line, the Ay’s forwards drove over for the first score with Dodds touching the ball down for the try.
James Woodfall was just wide with the tricky conversion attempt from the touch line but Ay’s had the early 5-nil lead.
Straight from the kick off Stow were pressurising the Aylesbury try line and their efforts were rewarded with a penalty. The kick for posts was on target to narrow the score to 3-5.
The first half ended with no further score but Ay’s had to work hard to prevent conceding any further points.
The second half did not start well for Ay’s as they soon conceded a penalty in front their own posts and allowed Stow to take the lead with the easy kick, 6-5.
Their lead was short lived though as Aylesbury’s outside centre Mike Durose broke through the Stow defence with a strong run deep into the hosts half where he off offloaded to Andy Blacklock who then ran in the try.
Woodfall’s conversion attempt was blown off course and bounced off the upright, but Ay’s had regained the lead 6-10.
Ay’s soon took the opportunity to extend their lead through a penalty kick from James Woodfall 6-13.
But then Ay’s conceded another kickable penalty themselves and Stow got themselves back to within 4 points of the lead at 9-13.
Ay’s pushed further ahead with a try in the corner from Bartley Walsh, this time Woodfall was on target with the conversion kick from the touch line which he judged to perfection in the gusting wind 9-20.
With Ay’s now pushing hard for the bonus point try tempers boiled over at a ruck in the Stow half. The referee brought out the yellow card and sent the Stow number 8 and Ay’s flanker Adam Bown to the sin-bin to cool off for 10 minutes.
As the two players shook hands and walked from the pitch, James Woodfall kicked another 3 points from the resulting penalty, 9-23.
With only seconds left on the clock and Stow mounting a strong attack on the Aylesbury try line, a loose ball was picked up by Ay’s winger Andy Blacklock who found space between the Stow back line and sprinted into the Stow half.
Despite his mazy run to avoid the fast retreating Stow defence he was caught just metres from the try line, but he was able to get the pass away to the supporting Ay’s players. With the ball then passing through the hands of Jackman and Walsh before finding prop Sam Chappell, who while trying to avoid the tackles of the scrambling Stow defence and looking for support, passed the ball into the hands of a Stow player.
The ball was booted into touch and the referee blew for time giving Aylesbury the 9-23 win but no bonus point.
Although this result keeps Ay’s at the top of the table, second place Bletchley have games in hand. This means Ay’s realistically have their eyes set on the second place play-off spot for which they must hold off the challenge of current third placed Thatcham.
Ay’s next game is at Ostler’s Field when they entertain Milton Keynes, a win would then set up an exciting decider for the play off spot, away against rivals Thatcham on Saturday April 5.
Larham said: “We achieved a hard earned win against a much-improved team, and had to work hard for everything we got. I was pleased with our defence, ability to adapt to the weather conditions and our overall discipline.
“There were some brave performances, especially from 17-year old flanker Luke Walmsley making his first start for the first XV.
“The league results went as expected this weekend, so we have to remain focused and re-group for the visit of Milton Keynes to Ostlers Field next week to maintain the pressure on the teams above and below us.”